Thank you to all of our volunteers who came out to the museum to help this weekend! We were tasked with moving some of the collections, including aircraft, so that our amazing maintenance crew can more easily access our ceiling lights. We are very thankful for our knowledgeable and hardworking volunteers!
This post was written by Leanna Williams, the museum's Social Media manager. Leanna is a graduate student in the UAF Arctic and Northern Studies department, where she focuses on Alaskan and polar aviation history.
If you are a follower of our Facebook page, you may have seen this tattered old map featured in last week's "What's that Wednesday" post. This map is such a rich, interesting object that we just had to feature it both here on the blog, and on our Facebook page. Click through the photo slideshow above to get more angles and to see the fascinating detail of this object.
This is a geologic survey map of the Koyukuk-Chandalar region, that was used by Sam O White, Alaskan wildlife agent and bush pilot. White arrived in Alaska in the 1920s and became a game warden in 1927. Alaskan author Jim Reardon wrote White's biography, based largely on White's own writing: Sam O. White, Alaskan: Tales of a Legendary Wildlife Agent and Bush Pilot.
As a game warden for the Alaska Game Commission, White enforced wildlife laws across a wide swath of Alaska. He began his career as a wildlife agent traveling by dog sled, but quickly saw the advantages of aviation for his line of work. White recounted, "[w]hen I saw what an airplane could do, I realized that the only way the Game Commission was going to get anywhere enforcing wildlife laws in Alaska was by taking to the air" (128). That's not to say that aviation, still in its infancy in the territory in the 1920s, was without challenges of its own, which brings us back to our map.
First, you might notice that this paper map is fixed to a muslin-type fabric. Why would that be? White began his flying career in open-cockpit planes, first a Golden Eagle Chief monoplane, soon replaced by a Swallow biplane. Flying around 80 miles per hour, a paper map on its own just wouldn't hold up in the open air, so pilots often fixed maps to fabric so they would hold up.
Second, why a geologic survey map? Without knowing for certain what map selection was available to White, we can say that with a high degree of likelihood, pickings were slim. Many accounts from the early bush pilots like White, Eielson and Wien recount that maps were simply not available for the areas they were flying. My hypothesis is that this map was probably the best available option. It is interesting to note that this map was based on surveys from 1899-1909, and incorporated sketch maps from prospectors. Even with those contributions, much of the map is missing topographical detail, highlighting the challenges facing both surveyors and the bush pilots who used these maps.
White recounted further that, "[i]n my early days of flying in Alaska, based on available maps, almost no location in the Territory was in the right place. If, based on the map, one flew from Fairbanks to Beaver, the village on the Yukon River, you could find yourself fifteen to twenty-five miles out of place when you hit the north bank of the Yukon" (Reardon, 135).
With these shortcomings of maps. White and others had to adapt and find their own ways to navigate. Looking at the map, you may see some straight lines drawn from Bettles and a place called Nolan, connecting to Lake Creek, near Little and Big Squaw Creek. Some hand written notes appear to say "50 min," which corresponds to the five evenly spaced hatch marks along the line to Bettles. These notes and waypoints would have been important for navigating. White said that because of the shortcomings of maps, as mentioned above, pilots learned their own ways of navigating across remote stretches. He said that he learned to cross rivers and creeks at specific angles, to fly on a straight course to the places he was trying to reach, and to watch for the landmarks that would keep course (Reardon, 135). The lines on the map here would correspond to this navigational technique.
One final interesting element to note is the "Yukon Bush Air Charter, Ruby, Alaska" stamps on the muslin side of the map. These stamps suggest that this map remained in White's possession for a long period of time and was used even after White made the switch to a closed cabin aircraft. Yukon Bush Air Charter was a business that White owned and operated, beginning in around 1945. Reardon recounts in White's biography that White won mail contracts to fly mail out of Ruby, to places along the Koyukuk and around the region (Reardon, 298). Since we know white began flying in open cockpit aircraft around 1930, and launched Yukon Bush Air Charter in about 1945, it would suggest that this map was in use for at least fifteen years.
Thankfully, White wrote extensively; his words are well preserved and organized in Reardon's biography. Readers can imagine this map, tucked away in a flight bag or pulled out to reference a landmark, traveling along with White as he began as a game warden, as a pilot for Wien, and then operating Yukon Bush Air Charter. It's extraordinary the story a simple old map can tell. Follow us on Facebook to keep up with more of our What's That Wednesday object profiles.
Rearden, Jim. Sam O. White, Alaskan: tales of a legendary wildlife agent and bush pilot. Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc., 2006.
Announcing a photography contest from the Alaska Aviation Museum.
Our friends at the Alaska Aviation Museum at Lake Hood in Anchorage are holding a photography contest. We would love to see our beloved Golden Heart City and Alaska's Interior well represented, so dust off those cameras and start photographing your favorite airport facilities!
From their website:
Interested in museum work? Join our crew! We are looking for a collections assistant.
Please see the position description below for more information.
TITLE: Collections Assistant (Part time, 10hr/week for a 24 week appointment)
DATE POSTED: November 28, 2017
POSITION SUMMARY: Responsible for assisting the collections manager with the ongoing collections cataloging project, as well as museum collections duties as assigned.
SUPERVISION RECEIVED: Works under the guidance of and reports to the collections manager.
ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:
PHYSICAL DEMANDS: Frequently required to walk, sit and stand for extended periods; frequently required to climb or balance, stoop, kneel, or crouch; occasionally lifts and/or moves up to 25 pounds.
Those interested should send a letter of interest and resume to: Erin Kirchner, Collections Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org by December 12, 2017.
The Pioneer Air Museum is located in Pioneer Park at 2300 Airport Way, Fairbanks, AK 99707. Questions may be directed to Erin Kirchner at email@example.com or 907-451-0037.
This position was made possible by a grant from the Collections Management Fund of Museums Alaska with generous support from the Rasmuson Foundation.
1. What's your background?
I spent my childhood summers on the East ramp of Fairbanks International, helping my dad get his plane ready for our summer adventures. Although, as an aspiring ballerina, it’s hard to say how much help I really was. Something must have stuck, however, because even today the smells of a hangar hold the same sort of nostalgic sense memory that others associate with freshly cut grass and baking chocolate chip cookies.
I have my bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Linfield College, in McMinnville, Oregon (home of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum and the Spruce Goose). After college, I worked for several years in advertising before the opportunity arose to work for a local air carrier. There, I witnessed firsthand how integral aviation was to life in rural and urban Alaska alike. I grew more and more fascinated by not only how aviation had transformed the economic and cultural landscape of the state; but how Alaska’s aviation industry itself had developed since its arrival in the territory.
I am currently a graduate student in the UAF Arctic and Northern Studies program, focusing on Alaskan and circumpolar Arctic aviation history. My husband and I run a local marketing and advertising agency, so volunteering to help with Pioneer Air Museum’s social media is an ideal combination of my academic and professional interests.
2. What brought you to Pioneer Air Museum?
About a year ago, I attended a lecture that Pete, Pioneer Air Museum’s curator, gave on early polar exploration. In typical Fairbanks fashion, at the lecture I ended up reconnecting with a friend from graduate school who I hadn’t seen in several years, who put me in touch with Pete, who put me in contact with Della, the collections manager at the time. I had a few hours open in my schedule and was looking for a volunteer project, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
3. What projects are you working on?
I’m currently working on a couple different projects for the museum: a series of book reviews on various Alaska aviation titles; compiling information for an ongoing “this day in Alaska/Arctic aviation history” feature; and regular content like “What’s that Wednesday” on our various social media channels - Facebook, Instagram and here on the blog.
4. Favorite Object in the Museum
My favorite object is probably an old survey map depicting the Koyukuk-Chandalar region. It was glued to a fabric backing so it would hold up in an open cockpit plane. The most fascinating part of this map is that large portions of it are essentially blank, with topographic lines missing and rivers and streams sketched in based on prospectors’ sketches. To me, this map speaks to the challenges and demands on the earliest pilots in Alaska – the maps were primitive, at best, the working conditions required innovation and customization, because no one had ever faced the particular set of challenges that they did on those early flights.
The 2017 equivalent would be an IPad loaded up with sectional maps and WAC charts, tethered to a GPS. I love that map for showing just how much things have changed in Alaska aviation, even though the land hasn't changed since Eielson, Wien, Crosson et al. made those first pioneering flights.
This post written by Leanna Williams, Pioneer Air Museum's volunteer social media manager. When Leanna isn't running our Facebook page, she's a graduate student in the UAF Arctic and Northern Studies program, with an interest in Alaska & circumpolar history, infrastructure development in remote regions, and especially aviation history. Be on the look out for Leanna's bio, coming to the blog next month.
Harkey, Ira. Noel Wien: Alaska Pioneer Bush Pilot. Forward by Terrence Cole. Fairbanks, University of Alaska Press, 1999.
Note: This title was first released under a different title: Harkey, Ira. Pioneer Bush Pilot: the story of Noel Wien. Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1974.
It’s hard to imagine a name more synonymous with Alaska aviation history than that of Noel Wien; through whose pioneering accomplishments and life story, the development of the territory/state’s air transport industry . The 1974 biography, Noel Wien: Alaska Pioneer Bush Pilot, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ira Harkey, tracks Wien’s life from his birth in Minnesota in 1899, the son of Scandinavian immigrants, to his retirement years in Seattle in the 1970s, when he made monthly trips back to Alaska for board meetings of the airline that bore his name. Harkey’s biography is a great asset to the bibliography of Alaskan aviation; published just three years before Wien’s death in 1977; and before Wien Airlines’ closure in 1985.
As UAF history professor Terrence Cole writes in the forward to the 1999 University of Alaska Press reprint, “Harkey did a masterful job in bringing the silent story of Noel Wien to life” (xv). Harkey drew heavily from Wien’s scrapbooks and interviews with Wien, his wife Ada, and others. The book shifts perspective from third person omniscient, to first person, enabling readers to gain insights into the mind of the infamously quiet Wien, and those who knew him best. A reader will finish the book with the sense that they just ended a long conversation with the pilot himself, a testament to Harkey’s skill in recording Wien’s oral history.
With equal parts dramatic tension and journalistic restraint, Harkey’s book chronicles Wien’s early flying days as a barnstormer and aerial circus performer, an occupation all but gone today, but then a major entertainment draw. Young pilots building time today might relate to Wien’s diet of bruised bananas, when his flying time and wages dried up during a stay in New Orleans; although perhaps for the best, as the potential job was to drop bombs from an open cockpit OX-5 Jenny.
The biography ticks off Wien’s “firsts” the way a person might imagine the modest pilot’s recollections of the flights: first flight between Anchorage and Fairbanks (1924), first between Fairbanks and Nome (1925), first flight between the U.S. and Soviet Russia (1929). Harkey recounts Wien’s various business ventures in Alaska, beginning in the 1920s, illustrating the financial and logistical difficulties of establishing not only an airline, but an air transport industry, in the remote reaches of the then-territory. While Wien was not the first Alaska pilot (James Martin, Carl “Ben” Eielson, and others flew before him), he was certainly the pilot and operator who gave Alaska its wings.
Although the biography is focused on Noel Wien, it’s important to note that one of Wien’s indirect contributions to aviation was by sharing his enthusiasm with his brothers, Ralph, Fridthof (“Fritz”) and Sigurd (“Sig”), and with following generations of Wien children, fellow pilots, aircraft mechanics, and support staff throughout Alaska.
To put it simply, Alaskan aviation owes a great debt of gratitude to the calm, cautious and level-headed Wien. Much like the airline that bore his family name (of which we have extensive objects on exhibit in our museum), Wien’s innovative spirit and thousands of hours of Alaska flight experience set the course of Alaska aviation history. If you read one book about Alaska aviation this year, make Harkey’s Noel Wien: Alaska Pioneer Bush Pilot the book.
If you're interested in reading this book, you can pick it up at the Pioneer Air Museum Gift Shop. During the winter months, please call (907)451-0037 to arrange a time for pick up. You can also pick up a copy in Fairbanks at the Noel Wien Public Library, which was named in his honor and opened in 1977.
1. What is your background?
I have a B.A. in Anthropology and certificates in Archaeology and American Indian Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In undergrad I had the opportunity to volunteer as a curatorial assistant in the University’s Anthropology Repository and I became extremely interested in pursuing a career in museums. After graduation, I earned an M.A. in Museum Studies from Arizona State University and focused my research on culturally and socially responsible museum work, particularly in collections management.
2. What brought you to the Pioneer Air Museum?
In the last semester of my graduate degree, I received a flyer from Alaska State Museums advertising a museum collections internship with a small museum. I love small museums because of the different topics and tasks I am able to learn about and take on as a part of my position. ‘Wearing many hats’ is a phrase museum folks use often, and while things can get hectic sometimes, I enjoy my ‘hats’ and the variety they bring to my position. More than the position, Alaska has always been a destination on my travel list. I applied immediately and have been fortunate to extend my position through the winter off-season.
3. What projects are you working on?
My primary project is working to catalog the museum’s collection. This includes cleaning, labeling, measuring, photographing, researching, completing condition reports, and describing each object in detail. All of this information is used to create an object record, complete with donor information, and then is entered into our museum collections database. The Museum’s collections database helps our staff to know what objects are in our collection and where to find them. Outside of the collections, I am also starting to brainstorm for future exhibits and am also working to build our volunteer community.
4. What advice would you give someone looking to work in museums?
If you want to work in a museum, get your foot in the door any way that you are able! Whether that means interning, volunteering, or ask to meet with a professional at your favorite museum, what’s important is that you start to make connections. If you are already able to volunteer or intern with a museum, I would suggest pursuing an opportunity in another area as well. Museum positions are diverse and cover activities well beyond collections handling and exhibit design. Museum work also includes educational programming, visitor services and studies, administration and non-profit management, grant writing, donor relations, and even website and social media management!
If you are someone that is interested in getting involved with your local museum, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org !
This post written by Erin Kirchner, Collections Manager
This week’s #whatsthatwednesday is a cross stitch made and donated to the Pioneer Air Museum by Pat Mahler. Pat was a long time Museum worker and volunteer. When at the museum, Pat could be found welcoming and assisting visitors, as well as helping to maintain the exhibits.
Pat’s cross stitch pictured above is of a Boeing B-29 Superfortress aircraft.
The B-29 is a long-range heavy bomber and was first used by the United States Army Air Force during World War II. It is most recognized as the aircraft used to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. After World War II, the B-29 continued to be used for a variety of non-combat roles, including reconnaissance, rescue and in-flight refueling. The aircraft later flew in the Korean War (1950-53), and was finally retired from service in 1960.
Read more about the history of the B-29 Superfortress here:
We had a great turn out for our fall open house this year, which took place on the evening of September 28th, right here at the museum.
It was a great occasion to get together with old friends, meet new ones, and share our love of Alaskan aviation and Fairbanks history. This year, we were lucky to be treated to live music from Dry Cabin String Band and enjoyed delicious refreshments.
If you weren't able to make it to the event, but still want to check out the museum or sign up to volunteer, please don't forget that we are open by appointment during winter hours. Please give us a call at 907-451-0037, or connect with us via our Facebook page to set up a time.
Thanks again to everyone who stopped by for the Open House!
This entry written by Collections Manager Erin Kirchner.
As a non-profit organizations, museums rely heavily on the support of dedicated volunteers. The Pioneer Air Museum (PAM) wishes to strengthen their community ties through establishing a committed volunteer program. By joining the volunteer team, you will not only help the Museum achieve its mission, you will also have the opportunity to meet fellow aviation and history-lovers, become a life-long learner, and join a dedicated community!
What things do PAM volunteers do?
Currently PAM is undertaking a long-term project to catalog the museum’s collection. Interested volunteers will assist the Collections Manager to document, photograph, and research a variety of objects in the collection. In the process, volunteers will have the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look of the museum and will learn the different kinds of work that goes into caring for museum collections.
How much time do I need to spend?
Museum volunteers have a variety of commitment levels according to each person’s individual schedule. If you have an hour or a day, we appreciate any time that you wish to donate to the museum.
If you have questions or are interested in becoming a museum volunteer, please email email@example.com with the following information: Name, Phone, Email, preferred days to volunteer and any other comments.
This blog and website is maintained by museum volunteers and staff.